Loan Client Spotlight: Deaf Friendly Biz

Jamie Duncan, CEO of Deaf Friendly Biz, and Mary Ellen Bondhus, a DFB consultant

Deaf Friendly Biz (DFB) is a web-based directory of Minnesota’s deaf-friendly businesses, as well as a platform for such businesses to advertise to the Deaf community. DFB's goal is to teach businesses how they can offer a deaf friendly customer service experience.

DFB was formed by CEO Jamie Duncan to create an empowering marketplace for consumers within the deaf, hard of hearing, and signing community through educating businesses in Minnesota about how to offer a deaf-friendly customer service experience. Duncan, a child of deaf parents, has a lifetime of experience with the Deaf community and how to serve its members. She saw the opportunity to bring this expertise to the business sector, where she frequently noticed clients like her parents often didn’t receive as much information as other clients and consequently were less equipped when making decisions.

Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF) helped Jamie grow her business with a Small Enterprise Loan. On Monday, Jamie, along with one of her consultants, Mary Ellen Bondhus, gave a lunch and learn to SMIF staff about effective communication. Below are some of the stories and tips they shared about why it's important to make accommodations for people with disabilities and how.

You can order Deaf Friendly Biz's user-friendly basic ASL sign poster online!

"In Minnesota alone, 3,000 babies are born a year with some kind of hearing loss. Twenty percent of people in Minnesota have a disability....studies have shown that having a diverse workforce strengthens your team."

Mary Ellen: We had a business go through the training with Jamie, and their staff learned some simple signs and they have the Deaf Friendly Biz poster. They’ve started getting people that are deaf coming in and they’re signing with them. It may not be perfect or always correct, but more and more people are coming in.

Minnesota Academy for the Deaf in Faribault has families from all over southern Minnesota. They’re living in your region's towns, not just Faribault. How wonderful would it be that if in Lamberton, what some people might call the middle of nowhere, a deaf family who is there for farming or who knows what, and they can walk into a gas station and have someone be able to say hello in ASL. That’s really what we want is people feeling welcomed everywhere.

In Minnesota alone, 3,000 babies are born a year with some kind of hearing loss. We do have more than just a little area of deaf people and families…it’s all over. Also, with Mayo Clinic, you have families going there for a cochlear implant.

Jamie: Twenty percent of people in Minnesota have a disability.There are a lot of reasons to hire someone with a disability. First, studies have shown that having a diverse workforce strengthens your team. I’ve seen that the average time a person with a disability will work with an employer is longer than somebody who doesn’t have a disability, so it saves on training costs. There are hiring incentives such as the work opportunity tax credit. If someone comes to you through vocational rehabilitation services (VR), VR can often time help pay for accommodations that that worker may need, such as a new piece of equipment. A lot of time people wonder how they might be able to afford the accommodations to hire someone with a disability, but the average cost within the first year is less than $500. A lot of accommodations are really low-tech and inexpensive, and then they might hire an interpreter for staff meetings, but the costs are usually lower than people think.

I’ve worked with Reliance Bank, who is very committed to becoming deaf friendly. They have a poster, they work the flyer with basic signs and effective communication into staff trainings, and once a week their staff practices a new sign at their staff meeting that they can use with their customers. They also have the deaf friendly poster in the driveway to let people coming in know that they are committed to the deaf community. They’ve got the right idea of just doing a little bit at a time and not needing to memorize everything or know it all. The deaf community is really good about helping people learn. That’s part of how you build a relationship. It’s not about becoming fluent in sign language, but about making people feel more comfortable.

Mary Ellen: My son (who is deaf) went into Reliance Bank with my husband to open a checking account, and they saw my husband signing with them, so they were tripping over each other to try to help. My son was like, “I’ve got this, Dad, I don’t need you.” It helped him feel very independent. My husband got a little teary eyed realizing that he can do things on his own.

Jamie: I had a woman who was moving out of state with her family to Minnesota, and one of the reasons she picked Faribault was because she saw they had a lot of deaf-friendly businesses. However, they still need some deaf child care providers!

There are small things to keep in mind. When posting online, you can add an image description for people who are blind. You can also add in the script, as the closed captioning often doesn’t come through on the software they use. There are people out there who can help analyze your website and print documents to make sure they’re user-friendly for people who can see.

There’s also a new language that’s developing right now called pro-tactile, which is really cool Tactile signing is when you sign into someone’s hand. It's used for people who are deaf-blind. One of my clients who is deaf-blind has two interpreters, one of who signs into the back of the person about what’s going on in the environment, such as the layout of the room, when someone is laughing, of if someone in the meeting is dozing off.

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